Friday, August 7, 2015

2015: The E-Skip Season That Almost Wasn't

This year's E-skip season almost didn't happen. The few E-skip openings I had in May didn't get above the 50 MHz (6 Meter) Amateur Radio band. Only one reached low-band VHF analog TV: that was on May 8 to Ciudad Juarez, noting XEPM-TV Channel 2 with it's "Tu Canal" slogan at 2027 CDT (0127 UTC). It's interesting to note that 2015 marks the last E-skip season with Mexico in analog format, as they are expected to go all-digital at the end of the year. The rest of the month was pretty much a dud; so much so that I did much of my DXing on the AM broadcast band. I compensated for the lack of E-skip by adding KCOL 600 Wellington, CO on May 2, KCKN 1020 Roswell, NM and WIBQ 1230 Terre Haute, IN on May 21, KFIZ 1450 Fond du Lac, WI on May 25, ending the month with KIIK 1270 Waynesville, MO for a call letter change (ex-KOZQ) on May 31.

By the middle of June, I was about ready to throw in the towel on the E-skip season. The opening on June 13 only reached Channel 2, this time to Monterrey (XEFB-TV). On June 17, everything broke loose with an opening that reached 162.400 MHz to Texas. On digital TV, I logged my first low-power digital television station on low-band VHF and via E-skip when I logged KXDA-LD 5 Durant, OK at 1120 CDT (1620 UTC). At 470 miles, it's the shortest E-skip reception at my Hazelwood, MO monitoring station since I started my digital TV logbook in September 2005. 

I relogged XHPN 3 Piedras Negras, Coahuila...possibly for the last time before the digital transition in Mexico is completed. A new analog TV station was logged when XHCJ 4 Sabinas, Coahuila was logged with programming from the Azteca 13 (Trece) network at 1141 CDT (1641 UTC). 

On the FM side, I added two new Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex stations to my logbook. At 1115 CDT (1615 UTC), KLIF-FM 93.3 Haltom City, TX was noted with Dallas/Fort Worth ads, "Hot 93-3" ID and a Hip-Hop format. AM broadcast band DXers will recognize the call on 570 kHz in Dallas. The only one I got a decent recording of was KTCK-FM 96.7 Flower Mound, TX at 1132 CDT (1632 UTC) with local ads, "Sports Radio 1310 AM and 96.7 FM, The Ticket" ID and sports talk. KTCK-FM is the 50th FM station to be logged from the Lone Star State. The only other new station added to the log was KKBQ 92.9 Pasadena, TX with Houston area ads through KKID and KROM at 1242 CDT (1742 UTC). I also had re-logs of KMTH 98.7 Maljamar, NM, KTCL 93.3 Wheat Ridge, CO and KATC 95.1 Colorado Springs, CO (with its new slogan, "Nash FM"). On the NOAA Weather Radio bands, the Lone Star State became the 23rd state logged in the band between 162.400 and 162.550 MHz. WXJ98 162.400 Del Rio, TX was noted at 1127 CDT (1627 UTC) with weather conditions for southern Texas. WXK52 162.400 Midland, TX was noted at 1204 CDT (1704 UTC) with the severe weather outlook and conditions for southwestern Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

The next day, the E-skip activity shifted toward New England and upstate New York. At 1121 CDT (1621 UTC), WRGB 6 Schenectady, NY was noted with a CBS News Special Report on channel 6.1, while This TV was noted on 6.2. It's the third time I've pulled in WRGB since the digital conversion was completed. Signals on channels 2 and 3 lit up the signal meter on the digital tuner, but couldn't decode, not even with PSIP information. The only other station that decoded was WACP 4 Atlantic City, NJ. While the time said 10:11 a.m., it was really logged at 1138 CDT (1638 UTC). Here's a video capture of WACP:

This opening would only reach 102.1 MHz. Among the re-logs were WBOS 92.9 Brookline, MA, WOKQ 97.5 Dover, NH (only the second time noted), WAMC-FM 90.3 Albany, NY, WAIO 95.1 Honeoye Falls, NY (last logged as WFXF), and WSLP 93.3 Saranac Lake, NY. The new stations logged were: WNTK 99.7 New London, NH with Rush Limbaugh, taking out WXAJ (Springfield, IL's "Kiss FM", licensed to Hillsboro) at 1212 CDT (1712 UTC). WNTQ 93.1 Syracuse, NY was noted at 1221 CDT (1721 UTC) with "93-Q" ID, local ads and a Contemporary Hit Radio format. WZUN 102.1 Phoenix, NY (Syracuse market) was noted at 1226 CDT (1726 UTC) with local ads and a Classic Rock format, mixing with WIBV (Mount Vernon, IL). WZUN is the 20th FM station to be logged from the Empire State. WCIZ 93.3 Watertown, NY took out WSLP at 1239 CDT (1739 UTC) with an Adult Contemporary format, "Z-93" ID and the community calendar.

The opening on June 20 only reached 93 MHz to Florida and Cuba. WEOW 92.7 Key West, FL was the only FM re-log, along with Channel 2 from Havana and Channels 3 and 5 from Santa Clara. The only non-Cuban signal noted on analog TV was XEPM-TV 2 from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. All of these re-logs were between 1100 and 1200 CDT (1600-1700 UTC). Tropospheric enhancement masked the maximum usable frequency; FM signals from northern Illinois and northern Indiana took over by 1230 CDT (1730 UTC).

The opening on June 23 would only reach Channel 5 to northern Mexico, with only XEPM-TV 2 and XEJ-TV 5 from Ciudad Juarez making it in. E-skip would make its last stand for 2015 on June 29, adding WERO 93.3 Washington, NC at 2011 CDT (June 30 0111 UTC) with a "Bob 93-3" ID, local ads and a Contemporary Hit Radio format, briefly taking out WTRH and WPBG. After that, it would be all tropo, which will be saved for another blog entry.

There have been two total duds of E-skip seasons since I returned to Hazelwood, MO 23 summers ago: 2002 (only three FM and four analog TV stations added to the logbook, all but K59GP 59 St. Charles, MO via tropo) and 1995 (with only one analog TV station, CBFT 2 Montreal, QC added via E-skip; all the rest of the new FM and TV stations logged that year were via tropo). I hope 2016 will be a better E-skip season than thing I will be curious to know is how many Mexican TV stations will be operating in digital on the low bands.

Friday, June 5, 2015

New Airchecks - June 6, 2015

The first two airchecks from Atlanta are now online and ready for download. The first is from WQXI 790 Atlanta, GA, recorded in September 1988. It was shortly after the station dropped its Oldies format for a Gold-based AC format, simulcasting WQXI-FM 94.1 (now WSTR, "Star 94") Smyrna. This is the first clip of a station broadcasting in AM Stereo on this archive.

The second one is from a station that adopted a Christian Adult Contemporary format shortly after I moved from the St. Louis area, WFTD 1080 Marietta, GA was owned by Pneuma Foundation, Inc. ("Pneuma" is Greek for "spirit", as in the Holy Spirit) from 1988 to 1998. The format was fed from Skylight Radio Network in Minneapolis, MN. I worked at WFTD from April 1989 to April 1992.

Two more St. Louis area airchecks have been added. I apologize for the terrible condition of the tape I re-dubbed it from back in 2000, but the aircheck of WJBM-FM 104.1 Jerseyville, IL features the tail end of the Bluegrass show (some of the tunes could also qualify for Classic Country) and the start of "Ed and Alice's Oldies Show". This was originally recorded in 1985, before the station became WKKX. In 1994, the station was involved in a frequency swap with WKBQ 106.5 Granite City, moving WKBQ's Top 40 format to 104.1 and WKKX's Country format to 106.5. It's a Hip-Hop station today as WHHL ("Hot 104").

The other one is KCFV 89.5 Ferguson, MO, recorded in the summer of 1985. The disc jockey on this clip, Kevin Vetter, grew up two doors from my original QTH in Hazelwood. I worked with Kevin at KCFV from 1985 to 1988, followed by a second tour of duty from 1992 to 1995. The station was experimenting with a CHR format under the direction of Joe Sonderman, before the station slowly reverted back to a College Rock format by the fall of 1986. KCFV returned to a CHR format in 2004.

In addition, there's one aircheck from Pittsburgh, the Steel City in the archive, that being WLTJ 92.9, obtained in an aircheck trade with DXer Chris Cuomo. Markets that will be featured soon: Chattanooga, TN (my listening posts on the Cobb-Cherokee County line in Georgia were 75 miles from there), Portland, OR (from trips in 1985 and 1988) and Chicago, IL (most obtained through aircheck trades with promo collector Mark Strickert).

As we all say...more to come!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

New Airchecks from Eric's Airchecks - June 3, 2014

Four rare airchecks are now available for download from my aircheck archive on Box. The first one is a 1984 aircheck from KRSH 90.1 Overland, MO, which includes play-by-play of a basketball game between the Huskies of Ritenour High School and the Stars of McCluer North High School. The halftime entertainment? Two songs from Van Halen; one of the songs going out to listeners near Hazelwood West High School. When the station signed on the air in the early 1970s, the calls stood for Ritenour Senior High. The station is now KRHS, for Ritenour High School, and is part of the media setup at the school, located along St. Charles Rock Road. It's a 10-watt FM that now broadcasts 24 hours a day during the academic year.

Another rarity is this 1985 aircheck from KWMU 90.7 St. Louis, MO. This was at a time when the studios were on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and they were running Classical music during the day and Jazz at night. The Jazz featured on the station in this recording were releases from the early 1980s. The station now only runs a few hours of Jazz a week; otherwise, it broadcasts a News/Talk format on its main channel, confining Classical music to its coverage-limited HD2 channel.

One very rare station was the St. Louis FM pirate that was on the air in the early 1980s, KKLO on 99.7 MHz. The frequency was eventually assigned to Hillsboro, IL, where it's today's WXAJ with CHR as "99-7 Kiss FM". KKLO had a playlist of hits from the 1960s and early 1970s on this recording; the station DID NOT identify during the time I recorded them. Pirate KKLO also ran some comedy cuts, including the infamous "And now, a message from the Swedish Prime Minister" followed by applause and nothing else. The recording had to be split into two parts, with Part One on one file and Part Two on another MP3 file. KKLO was busted by the Federal Communications Commission in 1985. The calls were eventually assigned to an AM radio station on 1410 kHz in Leavenworth, KS.

More to come in the coming weeks! The St. Louis airchecks can be accessed here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

States You May Have Never Logged Before

As with most of us DXers here in the United States, I like to keep track of the number of U.S. states I've heard on AM, FM, TV (digital and analog) and NOAA Weather Radio. Being in the middle of the country does have some advantages, while it has some disadvantages.

On the AM broadcast band, for example, I began the DX season of 2014-15 with no AM stations in my logbook from New Mexico. I logged 18 FM stations, three analog TV stations and one NOAA Weather Radio station before the start of the AM broadcast band DX season. As I write this, the AM broadcast band DX logbook from The Land of Enchantment is now at three. In November, I caught KKIM 1000 in Albuquerque (yes, the city where Bugs Bunny forgets to make that left turn) operating at night on 10,000 watts daytime power. The signal was, at times, taking out WMVP (Chicago). Later that same month, I also caught KHAC 880 Tse Bonito (on the border with Arizona) operating on day power and pattern, giving WIJR (Highland, IL) and WCBS (New York) a run for the money. Off-season, I caught KCKN 1020 in Roswell on day pattern on May 21 at 0155 CDT (0655 UTC) giving KDKA (Pittsburgh, PA) a run for the money. On the AM broadcast band, there are no stations in my logbook from Delaware, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. A lot of DXers would say that my best bet for Idaho is KBOI 670 in Boise, but with my location being 255 miles (as the crow flies) from Chicago, and that Cuba also gives The Score a good run for the money, KBOI is probably an impossible catch from the St. Louis area. I don't see any realistic chance to hear the other unheard states unless at least one station in each state puts on a DX test. It's through DX tests that AM stations from Oregon, Rhode Island and the state of Washington are in my logbook. I simply don't see any realistic chance of hearing Alaska and Hawaii from the St. Louis area, given the distance from those two states. I've only heard Hawaii on shortwave, and have not heard Alaska on any band. I'll be happy with just the "Lower 48".

Speaking of the "Lower 48", the only states I have not heard on the FM band from my listening post in Hazelwood, MO (15 miles NW of St. Louis) are California and West Virginia. I'm within single-hop range of some of the desert towns, such as Needles and Blythe; El Centro may be a stretch. I'm easily within double-hop range of the coastal cities (especially San Francisco). Only AM and shortwave signals have been heard from the Golden State. West Virginia, by contrast, presents several other challenges. Part of that state is in the National Radio Quiet Zone. FM stations are required to restrict coverages in that area to protect radio astronomy interests from interference. The western part of the state is within tropo distance; most notably Huntington, Parkersburg and Wheeling. Charleston may be stretching it a bit. The eastern part of the state (Harper's Ferry, Martinsburg, Charles Town) is within E-skip range. While I have two analog TV stations (both from Huntington) and 11 AM stations in my logbook from "Almost Heaven", no FM station has entered my logbook from West Virginia.

Analog TV also presented some challenges. Before the transition to digital TV, I had locals on channels 2, 4 and 5. That made logging states like Maine on analog TV a real challenge. WLBZ Bangor, when it was in analog, was never logged due to local KTVI being parked there. Other states weren't logged because the lowest channel station in the state was either on high-band VHF or UHF. Analog TV stations weren't logged from Delaware, New Hampshire or New Jersey as a result. The lowest channel station, if my memory serves, in Delaware was on channel 14. The lowest channel stations in New Hampshire and New Jersey were both on channel 9. Before WWOR-TV moved its city of license from New York, NY to Secaucus, NJ, the lowest channel station in New Jersey was on 13 (non-commercial WNET Newark). Due to distance and channel placement, I also did not log California, Oregon or the state of Washington on analog TV from Hazelwood.

Digital TV seems to follow the same propagation characteristics as the analog counterpart, although I've received two states in digital (Maine and New Jersey) I never logged in analog format. I've logged WLBZ 2 Bangor, ME in digital format, along with WACP 4 Atlantic City, NJ. There have been close-in states to Missouri I have not yet logged in digital format, such as Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Digital TV from those two states will be logged eventually. I haven't yet pulled in a Nebraska digital TV station on tropospheric enhancement propagation., although I've pulled in KNOP 2 North Platte via E-skip propagation.

NOAA Weather Radio (162.400-162.550 MHz) also follows the same propagation characteristics. Given its high placement in the VHF spectrum, tropospheric enhancement is more common. The only close-in state to Missouri I have not yet logged a NOAA Weather Radio station from is Wisconsin. E-skip does reach this band on occasion; my first experience with E-skip on the NOAA Weather Radio band came in 2004, with the log of KHB38 162.400 Atlantic City, NJ. This type of propagation also allowed me to log Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia on the NOAA Weather Radio band. The latter two states could also provide some tropospheric enhancement logs at some point, especially from western Pennsylvania and the Virginia panhandle.  

In the 23 years since I returned to the St. Louis area from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains northwest of Atlanta, GA, I've discovered several things about my present location. New England is a lot easier to hear via E-skip on the FM band as it is on the AM broadcast band. I've only heard five stations from that region: three from Massachusetts (all from the Boston area), one each from Connecticut (WTIC 1080 Hartford) and Rhode Island (a DX test from 1220 in Providence). The West Coast has been better heard on AM than on FM. At least once a year, the three former 1-A Clears from California (KFI 640 and KNX 1070 in Los Angeles, KNBR 680 in San Francisco) come in at Hazelwood. Three of the four AM stations I've logged from Washington and the lone AM in my logbook from Oregon have been logged thanks to DX tests. Oregon and Washington have also been logged on FM. The two Oregonians I've heard have been 98.7 in Nyssa via single-hop E-skip, and 101.9 in Portland via double-hop. The lone Washington state FM (94.1 in Clarkston) has been logged via single-hop E-skip.

Some states have been logged via more than one mode of propagation. On FM, for example, Georgia and North Carolina have been logged by three different modes of propagation (E-skip, tropospheric enhancement and meteor scatter). Utah has been logged on FM via E-skip and meteor scatter. Given my location, one part of a state can be heard or seen via tropospheric enhancement, while another part can be heard or seen via E-skip. Take Pennsylvania as an example. On analog TV, three stations have been logged via E-skip (two from Philadelphia and one from the State College area) and two via tropospheric enhancement (one from Erie and the other from Pittsburgh). Tropo is most common from the western part of the state, while E-skip is most common from the central and eastern parts of the Keystone State. Another example is South Dakota. The Rapid City area has been heard and seen via E-skip, while Sioux Falls and Aberdeen have been logged via tropospheric enhancement. One market has been logged by both tropospheric enhancement and E-skip: Pierre. I've logged two FMs via E-skip, a high-band VHF station via tropo, and a low-band VHF TV station by both propagation methods. Another market that has been logged by both tropospheric enhancement and E-skip is Buffalo, NY.

Getting back to AM broadcast band DX, the sun's position can also have an effect on DX. At one hour before local sunrise or one hour before local sunset, eastern AM stations tend to pop in over the closer-in stations. For example, I was on 610 one night in November 2014, and nulled out KCSP Kansas City, MO to hear CKTB Saint Catharines, ON. On 1060 at that time of day, I could conceivably hear WILB Canton, OH over closer-in WMCL McLeansboro, IL. One hour after sunrise and one hour after sunset is when you'll likely find western AM stations still on day power and/or pattern. For example, if you're parked on 1040, there's a chance you could hear KCBR Monument, CO with WHO Des Moines, IA nulled until about an hour after sunset. Again, it's dependent on your location. In the Midwest, the best time to try for those difficult-to-hear eastern states (especially those in New England) is around one hour before sunset or one hour before sunrise, depending on conditions, or one to two hours after sunset for the difficult-to-hear western states (such as Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah or Wyoming).

As I write this, I've logged 1,605 AM, 1,288 FM, 579 analog TV, 166 digital TV and 120 NOAA Weather Radio stations. Nobody knows what new stations and new states you will hear in the years to come.

New Aircheck Page

I've finally decided to put my aircheck collection into a separate Box account from my DX. In the coming months, I intend to digitize my aircheck collection, which I collected in trades and from the markets I've lived in (St. Louis, MO and Atlanta, GA) as well as places I've visited (like Portland, OR). The first two airchecks to be uploaded are both from 1989, WLTJ 92.9 Pittsburgh, PA and WSNL 101.1 East St. Louis, IL. Both of these airchecks are unscoped. All airchecks in the collection I am uploading are unscoped.

Stay tuned for more airchecks.